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What Is GABA?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve no doubt heard a lot about nootropics and their various benefits. It seems like each day; a new nootropic formula hits the market promising incredible results that improve your mental function and cognitive abilities1 to give you an edge in your everyday life. Unfortunately, a lot of what you see out there is merely advertising. We’re going to cut through the noise to take a closer look at a popular nootropic, GABA. That way, you’ll be armed with the knowledge you need to decide if GABA supplement pills are right for you.
GABA, also known as gamma-Aminobutyric acid is a potent neuroamine that’s found in the human brain. Its primary function is to regulate many of the depressive and sedative actions that naturally occur in your brain every day, and it’s a critical component in our ability to relax.
GABA is a particularly interesting compound because of the way GABA function is altered once it enters into the body.
The Brain Blood Barrier
One of the things that makes GABA so interesting is the way it acts once it’s entered the bloodstream. Our bodies have something called a brain blood barrier, which is designed to keep harmful chemicals from entering our brains. At the same time, this barrier can also limit the brain’s ability to take up beneficial compounds, like GABA.
In addition to this barrier, GABA also has a self-inhibition mechanism where it will stop it’s own transportation to the brain if it senses that GABA levels are already optimal. While GABA is unable to completely self-inhibit itself, around 80% of the GABA neurotransmitter is lost if the brain already has optimal levels of GABA.
This isn’t to say that GABA supplementation isn’t useful. While researchers are aware of the brain blood barrier effect on GABA and also of the self-inhibitory action of GABA, it can still be absorbed by the brain at some level.
Research suggests that GABA supplementation results in a positive effect, which counters the idea that it’s completely unable to permeate the brain blood barrier or inhibit itself to the point where it doesn’t reach the brain at all. At the same time, there has yet to be an accurate measurement as far as just how much of a dose of GABA reached the brain to provide a therapeutic benefit.
The effective dosage of GABA varies from person to person, and researchers haven’t been able to pinpoint an exact recommended dose for that reason. It’s best to start with a small dose and work your way up as you search for the dosage that will provide you with the most therapeutic benefit.
The lowest effective dose for GABA is 250mg, and it can be taken up to three times throughout the day. Meanwhile, dosages of 1000-3000mg are typical if the user is looking to treat a condition like anxiety actively, or if they’re hoping to affect growth hormone production.
What Are The Health Benefits?
GABA is one of the most powerful naturally occurring chemicals inside the brain, and there are many prescription drugs that are designed to affect the GABA receptors inside our brains to provide an effect similar to what you’d experience with GABA supplementation.
GABA For Sleep
We know that sleep is an incredibly vital component of maintaining our overall health and well being. These days, people are busier and more distracted than ever before, which leads to an increase in people experiencing poor sleep, difficulty sleeping at all, and conditions like insomnia.
One of the primary functions of GABA is that it dampens nerve activity in the brain, and research suggests that those who experience poor quality sleep or conditions like insomnia may be experiencing a GABA deficiency, which is why it’s so difficult for them to achieve restful sleep.
GABA has shown to have a positive effect on our ability to fall asleep2, and stay asleep longer. This benefit is particularly notable in deeper sleep cycles, which are regarded as an essential type of sleep for restfulness and recovery.
GABA For Anxiety
Perhaps the most popular and useful application for GABA is its ability to treat anxiety. Many of the most popular anti-anxiety medications on the market, such as Xanax, for example, work to increase GABA levels inside the brain, which helps to dampen the nerves inside the brain, making it easier for the user to relax and feel calm3.
Reason would dictate that if these prescription medications are designed to increase GABA production, that supplementation with GABA may be just as helpful. Studies have demonstrated that GABA can induce relaxation while also reducing anxiety in test subjects.
For those suffering from anxiety, a natural supplement like GABA could be a game changer, since it may be able to reduce or eliminate the need for potentially habit forming prescription medications that also come with a litany of serious side effects.
GABA And HGH
This one should certainly grab the attention of bodybuilding buffs reading this article. There is evidence that suggests that GABA has a positive effect on the bodies ability to produce human growth hormone (HGH).
Researchers have had an incredibly difficult time accurately measuring HGH levels in test subjects. However, there are a few other measurements which can be made which suggest changes in HGH production.
While HGH is secreted into the body through the pituitary gland, there is another growth hormone which can be secreted into our bloodstream through our T and B cells. This is known as the immunoreactive growth hormone, and the levels of irGH can be measured.
GABA supplementation has resulted in a 400% increase in the amount of irGH being produced during periods of rest and a 200% increase when taken before a workout.
While this information isn’t enough for us to definitively conclude that GABA can increase the production of HGH, there is indeed a parallel between the two, and it’s currently being studied in greater detail.
What Are The Potential Side Effects?
One of the best aspects of GABA supplementation is the fact that it’s virtually without side effects. While side effects such as sleepiness, tingling sensations and shortness of breath have been reported, they’re rare. Typically, these kinds of side effects are associated with larger doses of 3000mg or more.
For the most part, GABA is entirely safe, and most users will never experience any side effects from using this supplement. If you’re experiencing side effects while taking GABA, it may be a good idea to cut your dosage in half and see if you notice an improvement.
How To Use GABA In Your Daily Life
GABA is most commonly available in pill form and is taken just like any other pill. Most manufacturers advise that you take GABA on an empty stomach if possible. You’ll also be able to find sublingual GABA tablets that you place under your tongue and allow to dissolve. The sublingual tablets work more quickly than pills do, so it may be a good option for those looking to take a GABA supplement just before bed to improve sleep quality.
As with all other supplements, you’ll want to consult with your physician before incorporating new supplements into your routine. While GABA is very safe, there are certain prescription drugs that it may interact with negatively. For example, if you’re taking antidepressants, or other neurally active drugs, you should steer clear of GABA.
Stacks Well With
GABA can be stacked in some different ways to improve its effectiveness. Often, GABA is taken with L-Citrulline which helps GABA permeate the blood-brain barrier more efficiently, thereby upping its effectiveness.. For sleep, GABA is often combined with 5-HTP and another supplement containing zinc, magnesium and vitamin B6. GABA also works well with nitric oxide boosters for workouts. GABA is also regularly stacked with taurine, as taurine can help increase GABA production4 while also making GABA more effective than it would be when taken alone.
There are several alternatives to GABA that you may want to look into, depending on the symptoms you’re trying to treat. While there aren’t any supplements available that directly mirror the effects of GABA, there are several other supplements that offer similar therapeutic benefits.
If your goal is to control anxiety, there are many viable non-prescription options that may be of interest to you. Theanine may be the most useful of these supplements, as it’s shown an ability to increase GABA production in the brain.
Kava root is another supplement that can help reduce the symptoms of anxiety thanks to its ability to increase GABA production. Years ago, Kava was linked to liver toxicity issues, but it appears that may be erroneous, despite the fact that it has been banned in several countries. Research suggests that the chance of you experiencing liver toxicity issues as a result of kava supplementation is less than one in a million. Regardless, you should consult with a physician before supplementing with kava.
There are also several supplements available which help to regulate GABA production inside your brain to make sure you have optimal levels in your system. While these supplements don’t actively increase the amount of GABA in your brain, they may be worth looking into as they can help your body to produce more GABA on its own. These supplements include magnesium, vitamin B6 and ashwagandha5.
For Better Sleep
When it comes to sleep, melatonin is the most popular natural supplement available. Melatonin is created by our bodies and helps to regulate our sleep-wake cycle. Darkness stimulates the body to produce more melatonin, which signals the body that it’s time to prepare for sleep. Light causes the body to produce less melatonin.
Some people who have trouble sleeping may have a lack of melatonin in their system, and supplementing with melatonin can make it easier for them to get to sleep. However, melatonin doesn’t appear to have the same impact on sleep quality that GABA does.
For HGH Production
Short of injecting HGH, which is illegal, there aren’t any supplements available that directly increase HGH production. There are several supplements offered by different bodybuilding companies that are designed to improve HGH production. However, there’s no research to support any of the claims made by these products. Further, since the research for these supplements is inconclusive, they should be regarded with skepticism.
In general, GABA is a relatively safe supplement with few side effects that are usually only seen at extremely high doses. If you’re looking to improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety or potentially increase growth hormone production, you may want to consider using a GABA supplement.
Regardless of your reasoning for trying GABA, be sure to consult with a licensed physician before taking GABA to make sure that it won’t react negatively to any other medications you may be taking.